Arts Advocacy Update 154: Bainbridge to Nowhere

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The content below is from Americans for the Arts’ Arts Watch email blast of Nov. 10, 2010. (Subscribe to it here.) Expressions, opinions and/or comments in italics following each story highlighted in Arts Advocacy Update are those of the Clyde Fitch Report and are not endorsed or approved by Americans for the Arts.

Celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2010, Americans for the Arts is the nation’s leading nonprofit organization for advancing the arts in America. Americans for the Arts is dedicated to representing and serving local communities and creating opportunities for every American to participate in and appreciate all forms of the arts. From offices in Washington, DC, and New York City, it serves more than 150,000 organizational and individual members and stakeholders. Visit them here.

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American Ballet Theatre Returns to Cuba After 51 Years
Time, 11/2/10
“American Ballet Theatre dancers promised pirouettes — not politics — during the troupe’s historic visit to Cuba this week, the first by the New York-based company since shortly after Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution turned the island into a U.S. nemesis…The trip is part of a surge in feel-good cultural and artistic exchanges since President Obama took office in 2008…Kevin McKenzie, artistic director of the ballet company, said the dancers were there as artists, not politicians — but that he hoped such cultural exchanges could help improve understanding across the Straits of Florida.”
McKenzie is naturally saying the right thing: no sense injecting even a whiff of politics into the situation. But let’s be clear that the visit is inherently political and represents precisely the kind of cultural diplomacy the U.S. needs to do a lot more of.

Texas: Austin Arts Groups Raise the Technology Bar (Code)
The Statesman, 10/31/10
“Attendees of the Austin Lyric Opera’s upcoming performance of La Traviata will notice something new in the show program — small graphical squares scattered throughout the pages. After downloading an app, patrons who target the icons with their smart phones can be directed to a variety of content without having to type in a URL…The postage-stamp-size icons, called QR (quick response) codes, are more sophisticated cousins of traditional bar codes. And in the age of smart phones, they’re an increasingly popular way to interact with an audience, because they can instantly send people to websites, photos, or videos.”
And now, back to the old argument. There’s a quote in this story from Maria Orozova, head of the “graphic design and marketing studio that designed the programs and set up the technology,” that these QR codes being a good thing since the audience is “sitting there…waiting for their show to start.” And then they’ll…do what? Keep their phones on? Or turn their phones off? And if their phones are on?

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Washington: Parent-Led Arts Education Effort Now Reaches Five Schools
Kitsap Sun, 11/2/10
“When Marla Morgan mentioned to a group of Harbor Heights parents at her home in 2003 that she wanted to bring an arts program to her school, it sounded like a simple project. The elementary school didn’t have an art teacher at the time, and the parents discussed ideas that may work. They came up with the concept of having local artists developing a project and teaching it to volunteer parents, who in turn can teach the project in the classrooms. The program was so successful and received such support from local artists and the community, Peninsula Hands On Art has grown every year and now serves five Peninsula School District elementary schools.”
Correct! Arts education is meaningless if parents are sitting in their double-wide, smoking crack and grilling squirrel for dinner (or feeling self-entitled in their two-story uber-suburban townhouse). Get them involved!

Cornell University President Announces National Humanities Campaign
InsideHigherEd.com, 11/1/10
“Arguing that the humanities are facing a crisis of funding and attention, Cornell University’s president, David Skorton, used his state of the university address [October 29] to say that he planned to start a national campaign on behalf of the humanities. Much of his talk was about plans at Cornell to hire more than 100 humanists at various career stages over the next decade, but in answer to a question, he said he plans to start a national campaign on the issue of the humanities generally…For a start, he said that it was time for university leaders to push for a halt to the erosion of the budgets of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts, and to articulate a vision for the importance of the humanities.”
Skorton might also call for an evaluation of the the ivory tower-preserving, Ph.D.-obsessed, tenure-track-driven approach to university pedagogy, too.

Georgia: District Taps Federal Funds for Arts Education Teacher Training
The Gainesville Times, 10/30/10
“Over two days, about 25 Gainesville elementary school teachers learned ways to infuse art into [other] subjects such as language arts, science, and social studies…Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said the district is using federal funding for professional development to reach out to the arts community. The system set up the workshop with the [Gainesville Ballet Company] and staff from WonderQuest, a local children’s theater. ‘We looked at what they had to offer and how we could utilize their resources, performances, performers, and educators to teach Georgia Performance Standards through the arts,’ she said.”
Great story. Can’t imagine what will happen when the Georgia Tea Party finds out that their tax dollars are paying for the teaching of dance as part of elementary school. Can’t have well-rounded children, no sir.

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Missouri: Voters Reject Local Hotel Tax Proposal for Arts Groups
St. Joseph News-Press, 11/2/10
“St. Joseph voters rejected an increase to the city’s hotel/motel tax by a nearly nine percent margin. The measure received 10,840 ‘no’ votes to 9,096 ‘yes’ votes. The City Council proposed an increase from the current three percent rate to eight percent to pay for redevelopment projects downtown and along the riverfront, and to fund local museums, festivals, and the arts. Revenue generated by the current tax pays for the operation of Civic Arena…The committee estimated the tax would have added an average of $3.50 to the cost of a local hotel room.”
Never underestimate the ability of the American people to vote against their own interests. One note, however: jumping to 8 percent from 3 percent would frighten me, too. Simply put, the numbers are large, or seem so, even if they’re not.

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Washington: Bainbridge Island Council Holds Firm on Arts Budget Cuts
Kitsap Sun, 10/27/10
“The scene on [October 26] was reminiscent of last year’s round of budget cuts: dozens of people from the island’s arts and cultural groups descend on City Hall wearing red, waving signs, and warning that the heart and soul of Bainbridge was endangered by the city’s budget cuts. But unlike last year, the City Council held firm, making no indication it would restore the $308,000 in funding for public art and cultural groups it cut from the 2011 budget. ‘Bainbridge Island is an arts community,’ said Jon Doll, vice president of the Bainbridge Island Arts and Humanities Council. ‘When you cut the arts you cut Bainbridge’s life blood. Cut us, but please don’t kill us.'”
One thing is very clear: no, the Bainbridge City Council doesn’t care. Next? (Whose fault is it, really? Isn’t it a messaging issue? Or are the power-brokers simply beyond reach? Isn’t it true that you can’t convince the unreachable?)

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North Carolina: Town Encouraged to Attract Creative People, Industries
The Cary News, 11/1/10
“‘We can no longer compete on price,’ said Diane Cherry of the Institute for Emerging Issues at N.C. State University. ‘This is no longer the state or place where it’s cheapest for land or labor.’ Holly Springs could fight for an edge by attracting creative people and industries, Cherry said…So towns that are able to attract right-brained people-those who are artistic, empathetic, skilled in multiple disciplines, for example-will have a stronger workforce…Towns such as Holly Springs can attract creative workers and businesses by building the things they like, said N.C. State University economist Mike Walden. That includes amenities, good transportation, entertainment, and favorable tax rates.”
Careful! First you bring in the artists. Then they’ll start thinking for themselves. Scary!

California: San Francisco Struggles to Attract Film Productions
The Examiner, 10/31/10
“The number of feature films, commercials, documentaries, and television series shot in San Francisco has declined over the past three years, despite the city’s efforts to lure producers with rebates and other incentives. Last year, 41 TV commercials were shot in [the city], down from 56 in 2007. Likewise, feature films declined from 12 in 2007 to six in 2009, according to the San Francisco Film Office…’Everyone is looking to save money, and there are states that offer really huge financial incentives like Michigan, Louisiana, New Mexico, and that’s actually not good for production in San Francisco,’ said Susannah Greason Robbins, executive director of the San Francisco Film Commission.”
Messaging, messaging. They need a marketing campaign — an “I Love New York” for San Francisco. I’m available. (I love the city.)

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